OM for the Holidays: How to Detox Now
Every year around this time I am reminded of the difference perspective can make. I have a vivid childhood memory of waiting for Christmas — it always seemed like the season leading up to this much-anticipated day lasted an eternity. These days, I’m desperately trying to find more chunks of time somewhere in the month of December. Although I adore the holidays, the many demands on time and energy require stepping up the balancing act.
How to have fun, get everything done, and stay healthy? Most of us recognize that our usual diet and fitness routine may have to slide a little (or a lot) and that’s fine — ‘tis the season to indulge. One too many glasses of bubbly at a holiday fête? Family desserts weighing you down? Don’t wait until the New Year to detox. If you take small steps to balance overindulging now, it will be much easier to get back in the groove in January.
Detox doesn’t have to be about deprivation; the little things can add up, since there’s no reason not to indulge if you can do so sensibly. Bring mindfulness to your holiday imbibing by taking a few moments to assess where you are before you reach for another cookie or refill your wine glass. There’s balance involved in celebrating with special treats and knowing when you’ve had enough. If you don’t get the balance right, don’t beat yourself up, but do reflect on it so it might help you recognize when to say whoa next time. You’ll feel healthier and enjoy yourself more if you have some tricks up your sleeve for countering holiday excess.
THE DETOX PROCESS
Yoga poses can help facilitate your body’s natural detox process. Like other exercise, yoga helps boost circulation and the movement of lymphatic fluids through the body. Also, several types of yoga poses (think twists) compress internal organs, which in particular helps with digestion; it’s like giving your digestive system a massage to help move things along. Here’s an anatomy refresher… Several systems in the body eliminate waste products, including: the digestive system, which I’m fairly confident I don’t need to describe; the circulatory system, which pumps freshly oxygenated blood through the body and whisks away cellular waste; and the lymphatic system, which fights infections and gets rid of cellular toxic waste via the lymph nodes, where bad stuff (like bacteria) is removed before the lymphatic fluid goes back into the bloodstream. Last but not least, the respiratory system delivers fresh oxygen to the body and gets rid of carbon dioxide. The integral role that the breath plays in a yoga practice is yet another way that yoga can help you detox.
YOGA PRACTICE: ONE-POSE WONDERS FOR HOLIDAY DETOX
In between all the holiday food, festivities, and travel, it might be tough to find the time, place and headspace to do a longer yoga practice or get to a class. It’s the most wonderful time of the year for one-pose wonders, which you can do pretty much anytime, anywhere, without equipment. Even if you’re squeezed into that small extra bedroom at Grandma’s, and she doesn’t happen to have a yoga mat on hand. These three sequences each address the different systems in the body that aid the detox process. You can do them all together, or one at a time.
APANASANA/KNEES TO CHEST INTO SUPINE TWIST
Twists squeeze the abdominal organs, wringing out the blood and letting freshly oxygenated blood flow in when you release the twist. This “wring and soak”, as many yogis call it, aids digestion. You can feel it working. Just be careful not to twist too soon or too deeply after a big holiday meal. You can do gentle half twists if your belly feels really full to help ease that about-to-explode feeling.
Apanasana (Knees to Chest). Also known as “wind-relieving pose”, so be careful where you decide to do this one! I do this pose every day; it not only massages the abdominal organs, but also is a low back release. It’s a great one to do before you get out of bed.
Lie on your back and simply draw your knees towards your chest; if your muscles aren’t warm or you just ate a big meal, don’t pull them in too far. You’ll know when to stop. Roll around on your low back as you hold your knees, massaging your sacrum. Stay here as long as it feels good — sometimes I stay here for 5-10 minutes!
Supine Twist. The reclining twist is so lovely, because you are fully supported by the floor under you and can really move into a deep twist (again, modify how deep you go depending on where you are in the digestive process).
From Apanasana, hug your right knee into your chest and extend the left leg along the floor. Use your left hand to gently pull your right knee across your body to the left as you extend your right arm out, gazing towards your hand. Experiment with using your exhales to twist deeper. Stay for 10 breaths and repeat on the other side.
Backbends encourage heart opening, which releases negative emotions. Holiday cheer will be more genuine if you get rid of that negative energy resulting from (fill in the blank: relatives, party pressure, etc.), and open yourself to the joys of the season. Backbends also increase blood flow to the spine, to energize if you’re feeling sluggish from overindulging.
Ustrasana (Camel). This is one of my favorite backbends because it can be a very deep one, and you can feel the heart-opening effect. There have been plenty of times where I’ve ended up in tears after a few good camels (my students too); it’s a huge emotional release. It also opens you up to whatever is going on around you, which can be a big advantage when navigating the emotional ups-and-downs of the holidays.
Version 1. Stand on your knees with your feet and knees hip width apart. Take your hands to your lower back and fan your fingertips out. Press your hands into your back and lift through the chest; take your head back so you are looking straight up at the ceiling. Hold for 5 deep breaths; come forward into child’s pose for a few breaths, then repeat.
Version 2 (full pose). Stand on your knees with your feet and knees hip width apart. Take your hands to your lower back and fan your fingertips out. Press your hands into your back and lift through the chest; take your head back so that you are looking straight up at the ceiling. Take both hands to your ankles, and let your head release back (only if it feels ok for your neck and doesn’t make you feel dizzy; otherwise, you can also bring your chin towards your chest and look down the front of your body). Keep the hips moving forward as the chest lifts. Hold for 5 deep breaths; come into child’s pose for a few breaths, then repeat.
VIPARITA KARANI INTO SARVANGASANA/SHOULDER STAND AT THE WALL
Inversions change up the blood flow for the obvious reason that you are upside down. But did you know that your veins, unlike arteries, cannot push blood along? They rely on movement to get blood from the periphery back to your heart. These inversions get venous blood from the feet, legs and pelvis back to the center. Both poses are restorative inversions, to soothe the nervous system and allow both body and mind to let go. A great holiday gift to yourself!
Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall). A wonderful wind-down after a busy day of holiday madness, viparita karani will help harness ungrounded energy and transition you towards bedtime.
Stand with your side against a wall so that your shoulder is touching it. Sit down, maintaining that close connection to the wall. In one movement, swing your legs gently up the wall and lay your torso down on the floor. You’ll then need to shift your hips away from the wall a few inches; experiment with a position that feels right for you. If you have tight hamstrings or lower back issues, you can put a folded blanket underneath your hips for support. Once you get settled, make sure you have some distance between your feet and take your arms away from your body, palms up. Let your head rock gently from side to side; bring it back to center and close your eyes. Stay here anywhere from 5-15 minutes, focusing all attention on your breath.
Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand). Called the “queen of asanas”, shoulder stand addresses so many bodily complaints. You should practice shoulder stand regularly under the guidance of a yoga teacher, to ensure that you are setting things up correctly. This version, done at the wall, is easier to come into while remaining aligned.
From Viparita Karani, bend your knees and place your feet on the wall. Lift your hips, and immediately bring your hands to your low back for support (your knees should line up over your shoulders). Slowly and carefully straighten your legs, one at a time, keeping feet together and on the wall. Hands remain on the low back. Stay here anywhere from 5-15 minutes, focusing all attention on your breath.
BREATHWORK: OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
When we feel stressed, our breathing becomes shallow and inefficient. Some simple pranayama, or breathwork, can help you detox and relieve holiday stress. You don’t have to do anything fancy — just the act of bringing your awareness to your breathing can work wonders. Improved breathing brings is more fresh oxygen for the body, and gets rid of stale air (carbon dioxide). But you can also take it beyond the physical level to visualize taking in things you need on your inhale – fresh air, inspiration, positive energy – and letting go of things that are no longer serving you on the exhale. Really focus on your exhale as your release. Let your exhales be the vehicle for negative thoughts and emotions to leave your body. Inhale, EXHALE. Or Inhale, Detox. Out with the old, in with the new!
Sit comfortably, preferably in a cross-legged position on the floor. Sit up straight, drawing your navel in towards your spine. Ground through your seat and lengthen up through the crown of your head. Close your eyes and breath through your nose; work to make your inhales and exhales the same duration. If it helps, you can count to 4 slowly in your head on your inhale, and count back down from 4 on the exhale. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes of breathwork.
Photo Credit: Larry Stanley, Montana-People.com